Members of Congress are concerned about the size of the Department of Defense’s cyber force.
U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber mission force consists of 133 offensive, support and defensive cyber teams. But during a March 4 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-Rhode Island, used his opening statement to ask about Cyber Command’s staffing.
“We need to candidly assess whether a force conceived more than seven years ago is sufficient for a dramatically different environment today,” he said. “I will also be curious to hear candid assessments on how organic capabilities resident in the Services are rationalized with CYBERCOM’s mission and strategy.””
Nakasone said during testimony the command plans to gather information for Pentagon leaders to make appropriate staffing decisions.
“A central challenge today is that our adversaries compete below the threshold of armed conflict, without triggering the hostilities for which DoD has traditionally prepared,” he said in written testimony. “That short-of-war competition features cyber and information operations employed by nations in ways that bypass America’s conventional military strengths.”
These expanded missions include a now enduring mission for Cyber Command to protect elections from foreign interference and influence as well as so-called hunt forward missions in which teams deploy to other nations to help them defend against malign cyber activity inside their networks. DoD officials believe these missions are critical to defending the U.S. homeland as they provide unique insights into activities of adversaries, which may be planning similar operations against U.S. networks.
In addition, due to new authorities from the executive branch and Congress, Cyber Command is also engaged in many more operations than in years past.
These authorities have rankled the leadership on the House Armed Services committee, where leaders have complained for more than a year that they have yet to see documents from the White House governing the intergovernmental process and approval for cyber operations. The White House must now provide defense committees relevant documents as was stipulated in the last defense policy bill 30 days after its enactment, which was signed into law late last year.
The committee will be able to “read and return” relevant documents sometime in the next week for the first time, according to a committee staffer.
Nakasone also noted, that policies, authorities and strategies have all dramatically changed within the last 24 months while the force structure designed in 2012 has stayed the same.
“That has driven a larger [operations] tempo, an op tempo we can talk about in closed session because I think you can see given the right strategy, policies and authorities, what this force is able to do,” he told the committee.
The bi-partisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission, created in 2019 to develop a multipronged U.S. cyber strategy, is expected to recommend in its March 11 report that DoD add more cyberwarriors to its forces.
Aside from just the cyber mission force, DoD also expanded what it considers its cyber forces. The new term, cyber operations forces, was designed to provide greater visibility over the larger enterprise of forces within the Defense Department performing cyber work, Nakasone said, mostly on the network defense side.
“That cyber operational force now is not only 133 teams, but it’s also the cybersecurity services providers. The people that run the networks for each of the services,” he said. “That’s import because we want to have the ability to drive training standards that are equal across all of our services. That’s a lesson that we’ve learned with our cyber mission force. One training standard allows us to be interoperable, drives a higher level of training, drives a higher level of capacity.”
This force is roughly double the size of the cyber mission force, Nakasone said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.